What Women Want: Shaving?

by roxythekiller

Art by our own Roxy

Fear of my bodily hair consumes me— and rudely interrupts my sexual fantasies: I slide off my panties, and the sexy, shirtless guy lounging on the bed says in Antonio Banderas’s husky accent: “That’s not a pussy, that’s a Persian cat!”

Yikes.

Most men will never know why their girlfriends aren’t up for sex: shaving. Yes, shaving— female shaving: a time-consuming ritual which includes scraping hair off the armpits, crotch, butt, and vaginal regions. Although some women enjoy shaving, just as some men enjoy plucking their eyebrows, most of us shave for one key reason: Fear. Specifically, fear of rejection… that we won’t land that job, that guy, or worse, the acceptance of our friends and family. Although fear of rejection is about as old as mankind, and fundamentally human, the fear which compels women to shave their bodies is a recent one, encroached in disturbing double-standards and prejudice that dehumanize us.

Where the hell did this custom come from?

Female shaving has roots in ancient Egypt and Greece, where prostitutes shaved their pubic regions due to genital lice. In Egypt, both men and women shaved their genitals. In male-dominated Greece, upper-class women eventually adopted shaving in order to please men. Genital lice also compelled Victorian prostitutes to hide bare genitals behind thick pubic wigs, designed to seduce and deceive. However, outside of prostitution circles, Western women did not shave their genitals, much less their legs and armpits— nor were they expected to¹. How did a practice limited to social outcasts become the ultimate civilizing influence?

The answer lies in American marketing, which boomed after World War I. As sleeveless dresses became fashionable in 1915, marketers designed new insecurities to sell women products no one knew they needed. Articles and ads popped up in mainstream publications, including Harper’s Bazaar (1915) and McCall’s (1917), exclaiming that armpit hair was both unsightly and unhygienic. By the time the Sears Roebuck catalog started selling sheer-sleeved dresses in 1922, they had already stocked up on razors. This gender-specific campaign continued after World War II, when hemlines rose along with sales for leg-waxing and razors. Then, in the 80s, the advent of the VCR brought porn to millions of households, and with it, opened a new opportunity for marketers: trimmed crotches! Marketing introduced women to a need they never knew they had… one which now feels as firmly entrenched as second nature.

Shaving standards work differently for men and for women— men are not held to the same standards and expectations that female shaving holds for women. For one, Western women are expected to shave their armpits, crotch, legs, and more, while men are primarily expected to shave their back and face. Even then, beards persist! Despite pressures men feel to conform to different trends, one trend remains in vogue: manly men. Unshaven men, proudly boasting stubble, armpit hair, and curly chest hair, still set hearts aflutter in movies (Pierce Brosnan in James Bond), fashion magazines (male model Andre Velencoso), and pornography (Colt Magazine.) They are favorably depicted as wild, free, practical, and uninhibited—  X-men’s Wolverine doesn’t care about your fashion and social constraints! Hairy woman, on the other hand, are depicted as a criminals, shamefully “caught” looking too manly, too uncared-for, too uncivilized. Accordingly, no heat-of-the-moment lovemaking scene on mainstream film, porn, or in the cheap bodice-ripper romance books piled up on my desk features a fluffy woman.

Although some women claim that they choose to shave, their justifications often border on prejudices about hygiene; which negatively affect how they view themselves and interact with other women. For every woman who enjoys shaving as a past-time or a sexual kink, there are others who claim to do it for “hygienic reasons.” The Western hygiene myth originated as a marketing ploy during the golden age of American eugenics and sexism, in the early 20th Century. During this age, nurses trimmed hair along the outer labia for “health reasons”— a practice established in the 1900s (which met with a great deal of resistance.) For all the concern over genetics and healthy babies, sex remained a taboo and misunderstood topic: female orgasms were non-existent, homosexuality was a mental disease, rape was a “natural” male urge, biracial babies were incurably ill, and marital rape was unfathomable.

Although times are changing, the assumption that female shaving is “hygienic” remains despite basic medical knowledge. Cuts, nicks, and welts caused by metal blades routinely become infected. Waxing is not only painful, but also leads to infections, ingrown hairs, and life-threatening allergic reactions. Laser methods can cause permanent disfigurement, which is why in-home systems advise women of color not to use them. The shaving and after-shave creams we dollop on our most delicate areas contain skin-irritants and carcinogens, and are often tested on animals (along with cigarettes. Check out the Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database, Leaping Bunny.org, and PETA’s Caring Consumer for more information.)

The argument that pubic hair “traps bacteria” and leads to foul-smelling odor is not any more plausible for female armpit hair than for male chest hair… or the hair on our heads. It does not take a medical degree to conclude that body hair grows dirty and stinky without regular bathing— a luxury inaccessible to Victorian prostitutes, but accessible from the comfort of your home.

Despite this dosage of common sense, female shaving continues to encroach on us, depriving each of us of choice. Choice is a crucial part of empowerment, and being in control of our bodies and ourselves. That empowerment includes the choice to shave, but also the choice not to shave. What if a woman refuses to go along with this ritual? Will it cost her her love life? Her job? Her stand as a civilized human being? Her positive body image? To the “happy shavers” out there, take a moment to ask yourselves: What will it cost you to stop shaving?

¹ Muslim spheres of influence were an exception, and expected both men and women to shave their armpits for “hygienic reasons.” Scarcity of water might have played a role, but the hygienic reasons were religious in nature, not scientific/eugenic.

14 Comments to “What Women Want: Shaving?”

  1. I LOVE this post. I’m big on exploring the history and facts behind things, and you’ve done an excellent job here. I know that one reason they use shaved actresses in porn is because you can see more. I’m sure they’re also concerned with lice, too.

    And I LOVELOVELOVE your drawings.

    I hope we see more of this spunky little princess. :)

  2. This is awesome, Roxy! I love it, I never knew so much about the history behind shaving before. You make good points. It’s one thing to choose to shave, but it’s a completely different thing to feel forced to do it or risk retribution from those around you. I shave the areas that I shave because it feels better without the hair there. But, many women do it because they think it’s necessary or that even if it isn’t necessary that they’ll be ridiculed or rejected if they do not. An episode of NCIS had Tony interested in a woman until he accidentally spied hair under her arms, then immediately changed tracts and insisted he wasn’t interested, it was too soon, he still missed his “wife.” Something he made up to keep from facing her scorn, because until he’d suddenly changed his mind she was interested in him. I’m sure this wasn’t lost on female viewers. It doesn’t matter how pretty you are, it doesn’t matter about your education or personality, but if there is something wrong with you physically (such as having hair under your arms) you are just as likely to be rejected by the men you’re interested in, or society in general.

  3. Did you know that in ancient China a “White Tiger” (a woman with no pubic hair) was believed to be a bad omen? Some sorft of undersireable, “unnatural” thing. Personally, “White Tigers” freak me out. I like having hair there. It’s fluffy and soft and it belongs there. I’m a conformist on the armpits, though. It’s more public and I usually think a woman is lax when it comes to grooming if I spot armpit hair. Unless strikes me earthy-empowered, and then it’s more like, “Oh, she chooses not to conform. Cool.”

  4. @V: Aah, I miss NCIS! I haven’t watched it in years! I remember that episode. Tony really did/does have a superficial streak. I think Ziva countered with something about how women soldiers don’t shave in the field–and wouldn’t he like to know if she still does. winkwinknudgenudgeknowwhatImean?

    @fey: I did not know that about the Chinese. It’s certainly not natural, and has all kinds of implications. I know people who assume a preference for shaved pussy means an inclination toward pedophilia. I sincerely doubt that that’s always the case, but it does make one wonder. It may not be an actual desire for young girls, but I think it enforces the power dynamic, letting him imagine he has power over a younger, vulnerable woman.

    If you want to shave, by all means, don’t let me stop you. You should feel as free to shave your head (Gasp! Verboten for women, you must be insane!) as to NOT shave your legs, or anywhere else.

    I always assumed part of the joy of a long-term, committed relationship was NOT having to be self-conscious about these things. Maintain whatever you’re both comfortable with, but you shouldn’t have to worry about letting it go a bit longer than usual. You definitely shouldn’t feel that you’ll lose their affection. But it seems that a lot of people continue to think that very thing, even after they’ve been together for years.

  5. So well put. I love how you had the study to back it up. You could not have said it better. I for one, I just choose not to shave. It grows, and it belongs on me. My family, friends and co workers know who I am and what I am about. I have been done with shaving for about 7 years now, and very very happy with it.
    What most women also don’t know, Look at the rise cancers. Not from the shaving its self, but what we put on after shaving. little scratches let in bad things from the deoderents, to the soaps and creams we use. Breast cancer is climbing, limp node “sp” cancer is climbing, utern cancer is climbing. So Dr.s have even gone as far to say, when women remove the pubic hair, it takes a way a little wall they need to keep things out. More and more women see the Dr every year for yeast infections and pains down below, and Dr.s are stating to look at the lack of hair and what it is causing.

  6. Depilation is something I have thought a written about for a long time, on and off. It is a very confronting, political issue for some feminists. They don’t want to be ‘forced’ into removing their pubic hair to meet male expectations, and fair enough…

    However, what do the same ladies do about under-arm and bikini line hair? Some of the more strident do appear in public with unkempt bushes under their arms, but not many. Same with bikini hair. Then the questions becomes ‘If I am happy to remove my bikini hair because everyone will see it, what about the rest of my pubic hair that only the person I love sees? Do I disregard his preferences, but not those of strangers?’

    Never mind. no-one says we have to be logical. I do feel strongly that women taking care of their appearance is part of the sexual contract, but exactly how you do that is up to you.

    If you decide for whatever reason to remove your pubic hair, you court dispproval from the feminist fringe. They may mask their concerns with ‘Oh you’ll get cancer’-type scare stories, but their main agenda is that they do not want to be attractive to the common male, and would rather see you follow their example. Their problem, I say. What I keep in my panties is strictly my business.

    I have Marzena removal cream in my bathroom cupboard. Works well for me.

  7. I love this post – I was asking similar questions myself this morning. Why are we so obsessed with being hair free? It can’t be healthy psychologically. And what does it say about men who only want to have sex with women who look like pre-pubescent girls?

    Z

  8. Zondrae,
    As far as I have come to a conclusion, I believe men are not thinking of pre-pubescent girls in this context. They do enjoying seeing clearly – they are very visual animals – and you can achieve that by keeping trim and tidy.
    However, the other part is that hair, even wet hair, feels rough on their lips and other sensitive bits. Stands to reason that you can rub yourself on them for longer if you are smooth. I recomment that, however you style your hair, you keep it well clear of your lips. Then you can lay him on his back, climb aboard and without putting him inside, slide up and down him for ages without finishing him off. And he will enjoy it just as much as you do.

  9. I think that we won’t change what is deemed normal until we, well, change what is deemed normal. I, for one, prefer to shave my armpits. Not because I find armpit hair gross or disgusting, but because I have a nerve disorder that makes growing out the hair difficult. After a week, I feel like I have coarse sandpit in my pits. I don’t shave ANYTHING else, but I just can’t get past the arms because of my issue. My husband wouldn’t care either way, and I’m glad I married such an open and not superficial man.

  10. I think the “shaved women look like pre-pubescent girls” argument is simply ridiculous. Whether I’m shorn or have a full bush, I look like me. I have hips, breasts, stretch marks, cellulite, and fully developed external genitalia that looks nothing like that of a 9yo. If my husband shaves his beard and mustache, does that mean he looks like a 12yo boy? Of course not.

  11. When my girls were teens (now in their twenties) they would shave their arms. Not the pits, but the arms! I was shocked by this. They didn’t even have a lot of hair there, but it seemed to be the societal norm in high school. It saddened me that they felt this pressure to do that. I happen to like the feeling of shaved pits, legs and yoni, and even if I were single, would shave every day (well almost every day). But I have never felt ashamed of my hair. In fact, I didn’t shave my thighs until I was in my twenties (although I’m brunette, I had only fine, blonde hair there) and gasp, the yoni stayed bushy till I was in my thirties when I discovered, via my girls, that women shaved them now. I tired it and liked it. I refuse however to shave it completely. I leave what I call a landing strip. Its an indication that I am a woman, not a pre-teen girl.

  12. Thank You very much- I hope that many will read your very factual and logical post and finally question consumerism.
    The first time my wife and I were intimate, I felt the rush of finding someone who thought outside the box (that box being TV) and told her how much I appreciated her lack of razor!

    I love your post, thank you!

  13. Reading some of the replies above, they do seem a touch self-centred. Sure your pussy is your own, and you are free to do what you like to it, but it is also the centrepiece of human sexual relations. In a very real sense you share it with your man so his fantasies should at least be consulted. You are still in charge, but giving him what turns him on usually pays dividends…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: